Chapter 76 - The Final Confrontation

The sweepers were closing in. Longhorn, Vulture, Panther and his fellow conspirators, and twenty sweeper troops… all of them were closing the distance between them and the Bloodsoaked Queen. She was outnumbered and outclassed, and what’s more the black terror that was their airship hung overhead like an ominous cloud. In addition to its heavy firepower there were scores more sweepers ready to join the fight.

“Don’t waste time. Kill her!”

She was in firing range of the chain gun and a doughty mutant swung it around to aim her way. Peering down the old-style sights he fixed the weapon on the nimble figure below and pulled the trigger. Its barrel started to spin and suddenly a storm of bullets came raining down. Crumbling buildings were blown apart.

The Queen couldn’t escape. It would only be a matter of time before she was cut down by the torrent of hot lead.

The mutant gunner howled in excitement. It was a rare joy and opportunity for a wastelander to slaughter a demonhunter!

The bullets didn’t stop, in fact they seemed to increase. She couldn’t see anywhere she could escape them.

Crack!

The shot was almost inaudible, drowned out by the screaming chain gun. Suddenly the airship gunner’s head exploded as a sniper bullet ripped through it with pinpoint accuracy. Just as the Queen was about to be peppered with bullets the airship’s heavy gun went silent.

“What the hell - ?” Longhorn barely uttered the words before one of the outpost traitors in front of him let out a pained scream. A bullet burst from his back and buried itself in the dirt with a thud. In place of his heart was a gaping cavity. He was dead before he hit the ground.

“Sniper!” Longhorn’s urgent shout rang across the ruins. “Where is he? Find him!”

Snipers were the most dangerous hunters of the Wastelands, but none of the marksmen Snaketooth gathered had joined them here. Somehow they’d been killed.

That meant there was only one person this could be – Mantis!

He’d slain over a dozen snipers single-handedly, which in itself was a glorious feat. Now this grim and deadly assassin was lurking nearby and with his presence the Queen was snatched from the jaws of death.

The Queen skidded to a halt and lifted her head. The airship was getting closer, people were struggling to remove the gunners corpse and take his place. Soon the chain gun would come alive again and she’d find herself in the same mortal danger.

She had no choice.  She had to go all out!

She grabbed the phoenix gourd tight in her hand. It spat a roaring flame that spread out like a huge fiery lotus, belching light and heat from its center. Even those who’d never witnessed such a thing immediately knew its power.

As the Queen screamed toward the fires, a phoenix of tremendous scale was slowly forming. The bird she summoned this time was larger and stronger than ever before, wreathed in power and a regal aura.

Longhorn knew what she was going to do. “She’s attacking the airship! Stop her!”

Vulture sprang into action, launching into the air. But he was too late.

The outpost marksman clambered up to the top of one of the ruins. A gun in each hand he leveled them both at the Queen. She was absorbed with using the relic, and wouldn’t see his shots coming.

But before he could fire – crack! A shot came from the side, drilling through one temple and tumbling out from the other [1]. He didn’t even react.  His brain ceased to function before he knew what had happened. But the shot came with a cost, for Mantis had just revealed his location to the others. Seven or eight of the sweepers rushed his way, trying to surround him.

Now that he was found he couldn’t offer any further support. The Bloodsoaked Queen was on her own.

Vulture shot at her and arrived just as the thunderous cries of a bird shook the earth. Stricken faces were lit by holy fire as the phoenix flung open its wings. Its fifteen foot wingspan pushed it into the air.

The living fire was larger than ever before, and more real. It was covered in flaming plumage that lent to its awe-inspiring image. Stately and prideful it towered over the area like an immortal.

The phoenix started by belching an orb of fire, keeping Vulture at bay. Then it rose into the air amidst the sounds of crackling flame and waves of blistering heat. The air around it was warped from the intensity, like the fires of Armageddon. Its cries promised death and ruin to the world.

By now another mutant had taken up the chain gun just in time to feel the suffocating heat bear down on him. Then… everything was consumed by fire. He cried out in terror and tried to escape, but it was too late.

It was an endless deluge of fire, first charring him black then consuming the ash left behind. The heat was so intense even the chain gun barrels turned red, showing signs of melting. A short time later all the bullets and gunpowder started to explode.

BOOM -- !!

From the vantage of those below they witnessed the giant bird tear through the sky, leaving a wake of flame behind its brilliant tail. Like a fiery comet it seared across the horizon and ultimately erupted once it hit the center of the airship. In a moment all the hodge-podge of materials that made it up were ruined. Acrid black smoke traced its arc through the sky as the vehicle smashed into the ground in a second explosion. Smoldering debris pelted the area.

The Bloodsoaked Queen had destroyed their airship in a single attack! Power like that should have been impossible from a mere human! Was this the legendary power of the demonhunters?

Her greatest threat had been dealt with, and only two of the demon’s three henchmen were nearby. Two of the outpost’s traitors had been dealt with.  An insurmountable fear filled the hearts of the sweepers.

It was the perfect time to fight back.

Her agile form was on the move. The Queen’s powerful legs catapulted her off a nearby boulder and sent her tumbling like a cannonball toward her foes at an oblique angle. Her target was Panther.

For better or worse Panther was one of the outpost’s apex warriors. When he saw her coming he hurriedly swiped at her with his daggers. To the average person he was almost too fast to follow, but to the Queen he was ordinary at best. She whirled around his dagger effortlessly and lightly placed her hand to his chest.

“AAAGGGHHH- !!”

A bloodcurdling scream bubbled up in his throat and was quickly snuffed out. The power of the burning angels set his heart on fire and the flames could be seen flickering from his eyes and throat. In his final moments Panther’s body exploded and coated the area with burnt innards.

Of the eight mightiest soldiers in the Greenland Outpost, Artemis was the only one who remained.

As Longhorn and Vulture watched, their faces turned to frightened scowls. It was unfathomable that the demonhunter could come back from what should have been her assured destruction. She must have used most of her energy, but the damage to their sweeper forces was astronomical. Now, with their brother absent, the difficult task of defeating this hateful woman fell to the two of them.

Standing amidst the remains of Panther, the Bloodsoaked Queen felt a wave of exhaustion sweep through her. She’d depleted her energy, and she knew that if the remaining sweepers surrounded her she might not be able to kill her way free.

She had to take care of their leaders.

“Almighty God, grace me with your blessing.”

Uttering a quiet prayer the Queen grasped the cross around her neck. A white light, holy and pure, emerged to create a luminous sword. She gathered all the power she had left.

Vulture screeched apprehensively. “Go! Stop her!”

The sweepers were hesitant. The Queen rose like a wraith from the ruins, her feet never touching the ground as she swept right by them. In a blink she hovered above Longhorn with both hands held high, saintly blade aloft.

Blood red eyes stared back at her and Longhorn bellowed a challenge like a wild animal. Muscles bulging, he tore a three-ton boulder from the ground nearby and flung it at her.

The light of her holy sword flared. The boulder was cleaved perfectly in half.

Signs of internal injury were beginning to show from the Queen, but her attacks were sturdy. She summoned the might of her holy sword of light with indomitable force. No living thing could stand unscathed before it – not even Longhorn’s metal flesh and iron bones.

In this decisive moment a shadow appeared in the sky near her. Vulture launched an attack, waving his dual machetes, heedless of the dangers. He didn’t fear the holy light or the sword it came from. In fact it was his target. Even if in the end he was cut in two, he was going to open this demonhunter’s throat!

Longhorn screamed from below, “Third brother! No!

The Bloodsoaked Queen swung her blade around to meet the young lieutenant. When his machetes met her sword they shattered like glass, but her arms didn’t not stop. She whirled around, the light of her sword carving out a brilliant circle in the sky that swept right through Vulture’s waist and wings.

The demon’s soldier slowly split in two.

He wasn’t afraid, only angry and resolute. His swords were destroyed but he still had his talons. Vicious and stubborn he groped for her arms, desperately fighting even though he only had half a body.

Vulture was born a mutant.

He had no name, no parents he knew of, no companions.

He had nothing until the master came and liberated him. Until then he’d been shackled, kept as a caged pet in some outpost. The leader of the camp treated him like a humanoid bird and raised him as a monster.

If he hadn’t met the master or his brothers, he’d have had no reason to live. He would never had known what freedom or dignity was. He would have spent all the rest of his life in darkness, treated like a monster.

“Second brother! Kill her! Kill her!

He clung to the Bloodsoaked Queen with the remains of his body, both of them crashing into the ground. Longhorn came running at them and lashed out. His punch landed on Vulture, its force ripping through him and into the Queen.

Die you hateful demonhunter! Die, you self-righteous zealot! And fuck you, fate!

The Queen coughed a mouthful of blood as she was knocked into the air. With what power remained to her she focused it into her right arm and swung her sword. The weapon dissolved into a cutting wave of holy light that swept through Longhorn like a burning glaive.

Longhorn’s face was painted with a complex and bitter expression. 

… they had lost!

1. The author describes it using an acupuncture point – Tai Yang, or Utmost Yang – but as it’s in the center of the temple I used the more recognizable anatomical description instead. Tai Yang is a point used for certain kinds of headache and excess conditions in the head – although one might expect it to be often used it rarely is, because the patients find it too sensitive.

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